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Recommendations for struggling Gunn student?

Original post made by Worried Gunn parent on Feb 7, 2009

We have a student struggling at Gunn and don't know what our options are for getting more support. The key stress is keeping up with the high homework load.

We are looking for information from other PAUSD families who have explored alternatives such as transferring to Paly, an alternative PAUSD program, or private schools.

Any advice from parents who have successfully overcome these problems would be appreciated.

Comments (44)

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 7, 2009 at 6:19 pm

I don't think transferring to Paly is an answer, the homework level would be similar.

Some suggestions:

talk to his teachers about the work load (probably won't help), especially if the high homework load is in a couple classes

make sure he is in the appropriate lane for the classes he is taking, it is much better to do well in a lower level class then poorly in a higher level class (or even worse, when the higher level class pulls down multiple class grades because of work load)

ask the counseler's for suggestions

drop one class so he has a prep period, but make sure he would use the time for homework

monitor outside activities, even if that means stopping some things for a semester

how are his organizational skills? Can he prioritize well?

For next year - really think about what classes he is taking

there are other private school alternatives that would be less work, but not as challenging and probably not as likely to get him into the same colleges.

there is the AVID program and Middle College thru PAUSD

Good luck!

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Private schools are not less challenging than Gunn (at least the ones we know).
It is correct that schools are different, though, in terms of management/administration/leadership, school terms, class periods, curriculum, teachers, peer groups and so on which could make a difference.
I am sympathetic to your situation. I doubt it is a situation where the child needs reprimanding, though time management can help most teens. I object to dropping outside activities, because these can be very worthwhile and lead to a balanced life.
Do be aware of an artificial situation in wealthier areas of Silicpn Valley that affects our youth. I am referring to parents who carefully pay for advance academic preparation of their teens. I would support this child because many of his/her peers have had a great deal of advance preparation. Many parents pay tutors and outside prepping schools so that the child is well prepared when they take HS classes in PAUSD. These students are less stressed because they have already been hand-held in Calculus, etc. Not all of us plan so carefully for all those years, we prefer to have the child do his/her own work and learn independence
, but this is not the norm now here.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Whereas I do respect your concern for your child, I think that perhaps you should ask your child what he wants to do about it. If he is concerned as you are then agree with him on a strategy. Definitely talking to a counselor is a good idea, but you may have to be persistent in getting the help you need.

If he is unconcerned, or if the counselor is not as concerned as you are, then perhaps the problem is not as bad as you picture it to be.

If he is taking too long to do homework, make sure that he is not on the computer doing other things, listening to music, chatting to friends, or watching tv at the same time as attempting to do the homework. Homework needs to be fully focused and multi-tasking is not going to work.

Finally, without being too critical, Gunn is not a superior school to Paly and even though many people think it is, the attitude of transferring to Paly because it may be a lighter homework load is not helping your child, Gunn students, or any Paly student, who may be reading this. Already many JLS kids are very upset if they can't follow their friends to Gunn and have to go to Paly. Many people think their house value is better because it is in the Gunn area rather than Paly area. These attitudes by Gunn families is hurting our town and we must get away from them.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2009 at 7:05 pm

My point is it most certainly is not a level playing field here, and this pertains more to the higher academic lanes where grades are king. This may have affected your child's situation more than your child's own actions! Gunn and Paly are not representative of the real world. Many parents have a lot of money to smooth the way for their children and increasingly work to "create" a "successful" so-called high achieving student.
I would focus on the child's strengths and support and build on those.
Also coping with a competitive academic environment among smug peers is unpleasant. There is WAY too much discussion of grades and bragging and putdowns of others and attempts to undermine other peers' confidence, who do their own work and learn in class.
When your child does something independently, exerts him/herself, then compliment the child and say how proud you are. These are great life skills. Nothing like standing on your own two feet.
Frankly, there are HS kids here who have tutors writing their essays and college application essays, too. I AM appalled and we no longer have our kids in this district, and the lack of ethics among certain competitive parents has a lot to do with this. In some cases, it is funny to me that the school takes credit for high scoring students -- since they are taught year-round by paid outside services! Think I'm exaggerating? Check out "Vanteus Academy," a commercial prepping business that handed out fliers at Paly several years ago on the first day of school (I was so insulted I kept the flier as a souvenir and have it in hand) - they offer a full slate of prep courses covering every conceivable subject and they brag about "SAT Perfect 2400 Award Winners" listing students by name from Monta Vista, etc.,...and Gunn. YOUR student must compete with these students. It's a free world and parents can spoon-feed their kids this stuff, everything from AP Physics, AP Bio to AMC Math Contest Prep to Essay Writing, but they cannot force-feed originality, creativity, self-motivation, high ethical standards, positive community-oriented behavior, pride in one's own work, individuality and character. There is a lot of phoniness here and grades do not represent some student's actual "talents" and "intelligence." Fortunately, some of the universities are beginning to catch on to these pampered youth who have such false, stilted, self-glorifying essays in their apps.
Finally, it may be late to switch to a private school, but it can be done at the HS level and could be worth exploring. I am aware of some private schools that are motivational and equally challenging and reputable to Gunn and Paly but have better ethical ways of operating. I send my heartfelt good wishes to you as you sound like a caring and ethical parent.

Posted by gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 7, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Last year my Gunn freshman had problems organizing sports and studying, (note: no prep allowed for Gunn Freshman athletes first semester). Also my student is more liberal arts, versus the math/science tract. It was very stressful and we quickly looked for a solution at the third week. We went to a more reasonable math class during the third week of school. The counselor was very helpful and supportive. The second semester, we decided to change a Bio class also about the third week.
I don't know what year your student is in, but the counselors will definitely help you when needed. Classes can be changed at dates later than we expected. At first I thought we were out of options, but I still sent emails to the counselors and department heads when I knew there was a problem. Everyone helped and things improved quickly. Several classes had to be changed to make the switches, it was bit difficult for a freshman, but worked out very well.

I have reached my own conclusions about why these classes seem so unreasonable, but that's another topic.

good luck, don't give up, there are many people at the school who can help you.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 8, 2009 at 8:48 am

Gunn parent - good advice, my freshman switch math classes last year and that made a big difference. I would be very interested to know why you think these classes are so unreasonable?

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 8, 2009 at 12:11 pm

I'm also curious about switching to a different Bio class - Paly only has one lane of Biology (not including AP). Does Gunn have more then one?

Posted by gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 8, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Paly parent,

Just my opinion about the basic problem with some classes: instructors are not proficient at teaching the important/difficult material. A good teacher should be able to explain a complicated process in a manner that is understandable. When the material is complicated, very few people can learn it on the first presentation. Teachers need to provide handouts or post on in-class for the difficult concepts. Many teachers do not return tests, so the kids do not even learn from mistakes. In my student's bio class the teacher rarely provides the correct homework answers, so its very easy to "learn" the wrong answers.

We have had two fantastic math teachers this year! Clear class lessons, class notes even posted on in-class, answers posted to homework, tests quickly graded and returned. These teachers have provided the correct tools for learning and its now up to the kids to use them.

Gunn has three levels of Bio: bio, Bio A and Bio AC.

Posted by Worried Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 8, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Thank you all for your thoughtful responses.

It wasn't that I expected Paly to have less pressure, but since I am concerned about social issues as well as academics, I thought a school change might offer a fresh start for our freshman son.

If anyone had their student switch between Paly & Gunn (either way), or to a local private HS I'd appreciate your insights on how it went.

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 8, 2009 at 9:30 pm

There is a fantastic program at Gunn called Focus on Success that is available for students that want help with organization of their schoolwork. Focus on Success offers support to students through tutoring help, skill development and special encouragement to achieve objectives they set for themselves. Many student athletes sign up for this class to help them organize their studies.

Gunn also offers an Opportunity Program to freshmen and sophomores who feel that a comprehensive high school does not fit their needs, a Middle College option through Foothill College for juniors and seniors and an Independent Study program in a few classes for special circumstances.

Posted by Reymundo, a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2009 at 7:56 am

When you refer to private schools in the area that could be alternatives to Gunn or Paly where academic standards are high, what private schools are you referring to? There's Castilleja and Menlo School...are there any others on that level in the area?

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2009 at 8:12 am

The private high schools I know are both internationally known boarding schools in two other states. The motivation/interest to attend one of these schools came from our students and we parents enthusiastically supported our students. The other one I know through relatives. With today's connectivity the separation that comes with boarding school life is not as bad as in past years.
All I'm saying is it pays to be creative and consider alternatives when looking at secondary education. There are some fantastic schools out there. Sometimes students can transfer during the high school years, though this is not what one would generally think.
The info I have about local private high schools - based on knowing some students, learning about their academics/experiences, etc. leads me to believe these local schools are also quite good.
For example, I was acquainted with someone from SHP - whose entire education was at SHP - and this student (who appeared happy) had offers from an incredible array of top US universities, if that is how you would measure a local private school comparable to Paly or Gunn.
We have no sports knowledge, so the emphasis that a few local private schools puts on sports recruiting - like Bellarmine?- is out of my realm.

Posted by H., a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 9, 2009 at 10:44 am

I also had trouble at Gunn keeping up with the workload and my grades suffered. My parents took me to a psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with ADD and put on meds. My grades improved significantly and I became much better able to focus (although it's not as if the pressure disappeared...I just was better able to manage my time and the competing demands). I continue to take medication for ADD to this day (10 years later) and would struggle to keep up with the demands of my job if I did not.

Clearly this is not the answer for everyone who has trouble meeting expectations at Gunn. It is a tough environment and the pressures are extreme. But I was accurately diagnosed with an attentional problem that had been a handicap for me, and medication was an important step in overcoming the obstacle it was to my ability to succeed there.

Posted by anon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Palo Alto Prep is a private school with significantly less homework than the public schools. My sister transferred there when she was finding the workload (and school culture) at Gunn oppressive. She really liked it, although I definitely feel that it had lower academic standards than the public schools.

Posted by Jim, a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Just do the homework for the kid like all the other parents.

Posted by Amy, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2009 at 8:25 pm

I've known several students who moved to Pinewood, which is just up Arastradero. The classes are smaller and teachers really work with students who are struggling. Yes, some students are very stressed, but not during freshman year.

Posted by cathleen, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 9, 2009 at 9:18 pm

My student failed miserably at Paly and it was when we transferred him to Mid-Peninsula High School that he felt comfortable, safe and appreciated. This school offers college prep courses and a safe caring environment where each student is appreciated and given all the help they need. Best of all, they handle any homework issues allowing parents to enjoy their children. We just wish we had found it during his freshman year instead of later.

Posted by sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Just make sure your kid is evaluated by someone with an MD after their name.

There is a cottage industry of under employed MFCCs,some have PhDs in non medical fields, who do more harm than good in these cases.

A qualified psychiatrist will know how to help.

Posted by laura, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2009 at 8:28 am

My child had four hours of homework per night when she took AP Bio and had to cut out all sports. She also had to find time to do the homework in the other demanding courses and three other APs. Of course this was good preparation for college (UC) but what is the toll where so much stress is poured on these kids and they cannot handle it? A doctor friend told me he took the same bio in MEDICAL SCHOOL, not 10th grade!!!!!

Posted by laura, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2009 at 8:29 am

Forgot to mention - but you can probably figure it out - this was at Gunn.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2009 at 8:43 am

What are freshman doing taking APs? These are college level courses, where college students have less classes and less classroom time. They are designed for juniors and seniors who have less classes and prep time in school, not for those who are still doing many academic
classes and have no time during the school day to study.

Any parent who is now signing their 8th grader up for AP classes next year at Gunn or Paly must be out of synch with what is expected. These classes are rigorous and demanding. If you do sign your kid up now, don't be too surprised when next year you are complaining that your child has 5 hours homework each night and doesn't get enough sleep, or has to cut out extra curriculas, or is on meds to stay focused.

Be realistic. These kids are still 13, they have no idea about the pressures these classes will put them under. Save the APs for at least a year, if not two.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2009 at 9:16 am

It used to be you could only take APs if you were a junior or senior. They were intended for a more mature student. Now it is a parental status symbol to pressure kids to take AP's as early and as often as possible, often in subjects of no particular interest to the student. (It used to be in the student's particular focus, say in English/Humanities/Languages OR Math/Sciences...) This is all for competitive college apps. I was surprised to find PAUSD permits this excessive number of AP courses, but parents apparently demand it and with paid preparation/tutoring, a kid can pull off multiple AP courses.

Posted by laura, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2009 at 10:04 am

Since the discussion has veered to college SAT prep let me also say it was very common at JLS to have parents sign their kids up for Kaplan or other SAT courses in 7th and 8th grade.

Posted by Anne Knight, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 10, 2009 at 10:36 am

Many of the comments offer valuable insights.

As a Writing Coach who works with many Gunn and Paly students, I want to point out that becoming more efficient at completing assignments obviously reduce time needed to complete homework. Tutors--but not only professional tutors!--can provide guidance in how to tackle homework and to learn with greater efficiency and greater effectiveness.

Posted by AwareAlumnus, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 10, 2009 at 11:05 am

It must be a problem more complex than merely the homework load. I can say with all certainty that when approached properly, it is not hard whatsoever to succed at Gunn.
While it is certainly a competitive atmosphere, it is not that challenging to finish work. I know that myself and many of my classmates did our homework and other such activities outside of the classroom to a very minimal extent, as long as you turn something in, no matter what grade you get, you will get some kind of credit.
I probably averaged doing 30 minutes of homework at home during every given week (with the exception of essays and projects) and I was able to graduate Gunn with high honors, an above 4.0 GPA and admission to my top choice university, all while competing on two different varsity sports and having a very fulfilling social life.

TIME MANAGEMENT---->The aboslute priority for any kid at Gunn, whenever you have an oppurtunity at school to do work (i.e. Prep, waiting between practices and school, or even in the minutes before school) DO YOUR WORK! Pay attention in class, and never let taking notes become a priority over understanding ang becoming engaged and curious about what the teacher is talking about.

I wish you child the best of luck, everyone has it in them

Posted by AwareAlumnus, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 10, 2009 at 11:11 am

Sorry guys, but i left out one CRUCIAL thing that leads to success at Gunn. SUNDAYS!!!

If you kid is active socially, and is the type to be out late friday nights, he/she needs saturday to recuperate after a tough weeks worth of stress/workload. Once Sunday rolls around, <<Especially after football season>> its STUDY TIME!! get your essays that might be due friday out of the way, outline your week, get it done

you have ALL DAY to do 4 nights' work

Thats how i approached it

Posted by janisw, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 10, 2009 at 11:19 am

My daughter graduated from Gunn last June and I know all about the pressures of which you speak. Please do pursue the FOCUS ON SUCCESS program. It was a lifesaver & made all the difference for my daughter. Also the Adolenscent Counseling Service available to all students was a wonderful resource for her. It gave her someone else trusted to talk to when she was feeling overwhelmed by classes or relationships (romantic,parents,teachers,or friends) She has struggled mightily with time management throughout her school career. We moved here from Fremont the summer before 9th grade(where her 3 older siblings & myself all graduated from high school). In Fremont the relationship between students and the teachers & counslors is very adversarial. WHAT A DIFFERENCE in Palo Alto! At Gunn she found very supportive teachers & counselors who genuinely cared about her success and helped her find solutions. Don't give up on Gunn. It's a wonderful school with many resources to help your child be all they can be. Better to learn how to deal with these issues now than to pick an easier path now and have to learn the hard lessons when they're away from home at college. My daughter is now thriving in college because of the things she learned at Gunn (both academically & socially).

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2009 at 1:55 pm

I would also vouch for Focus on Success, and to try to have patience that your kid will come around. Both our kids were miserable their freshmen years, and wanted to transfer to Paly, which is also a very excellent school, and as time passed they got used to Gunn and have a a lot of school spirit now. The music programs at Gunn are fantastic. It helps when kids have a "home" like the band room or the gym or some niche that is theirs. We have found most of the teachers and counselors to be extremely hard working, empathetic, juggling the needs of many many kids. I would also agree that it is better to get a higher grade in a lower lane class, than have the GPA brought down permanently. For the kids who are not the super super smartest it can be a really tough atmosphere, but I am convinced that we are lucky to have both of these superb public schools in our community.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Well, Gunn doesn't discourage the over-taking of AP classes because the number of AP exams per student is one of the main ways that U.S. News ranks high schools. So, the more the merrier--particularly as U.S. News seems to care much less about actual pass rate. Paly students take fewer AP exams than the ones at Gunn, but have a slightly higher pass rate.

There's money to be made in AP tests, so APs in all sorts of subjects are pushed. HOWEVER, there are indications that this has diluted the whole idea of an AP class--they've become more like honors courses than the work actually done in college. Several universities no longer allow AP credits and some highly ranked high schools have dropped AP programs in favor of honors curriculum.

Posted by Ex Gunn Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 10, 2009 at 4:21 pm

I can tell you that my children had the same textbooks in BIO and Economics as freshmen at NYU and Tulane that they had as seniors at Gunn. Both of these colleges are in the top 50 nationally, so the stress your child feels at Gunn is extreme. Both of my children sailed through their freshman year at college as they already did all the work at Gunn. We can evaluate whether we think this is good or bad, but your child should know that he is in an artificial bubble at Gunn and will do well in life after high school.

Posted by Ex Gunn Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 10, 2009 at 4:21 pm

I can tell you that my children had the same textbooks in BIO and Economics as freshmen at NYU and Tulane that they had as seniors at Gunn. Both of these colleges are in the top 50 nationally, so the stress your child feels at Gunn is extreme. Both of my children sailed through their freshman year at college as they already did all the work at Gunn. We can evaluate whether we think this is good or bad, but your child should know that he is in an artificial bubble at Gunn and will do well in life after high school.

Posted by Worried Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 10, 2009 at 4:21 pm

AwareAlumnus has it right. We are dealing with learning disabilities, depression and other issues. We have an IEP, and a team of professionals offering help.

It is a challenge to hear from other parents dealing with the same issues. We tend to keep quiet when things go bad and only share the success stories in our town.

I wonder if the culture at Gunn only favors the high achievers or if the struggling students have a place there too.

Posted by jen, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 10, 2009 at 5:54 pm

It's a very normal case. If you feel it is struggling, go to other place other schools. Try other schools ... Monta Vista, Fremont Mission San Jose, Lynbrook, Lowell etc. Then you will find the other school more tough than Gunn High. Then , You don't feel struggle anymore. Don't give any excuses by your own !!

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 10, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Dear worried parent - your child is lucky to have you help him. I have heard really good things about Mid-Pennisula high school for kids with learning disabilities (its not their focus, but they seem to do well working with learning differences.) They accept new students year round. I think both of our high schools favor the best and brightest, but more importantly, the "average" student in PAUSD can think they are stupid, when in many other districts they would be performing at an above average level.

Posted by Former Gunn Parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 2:19 am

Depending on the nature of your child's struggle, you may want to consider having your student tested for learning disabilities. Even just working slowly (slow processing speed) or problems with organization (executive-function issues) can, if the problem is extreme enough, be diagnosed as learning disabilities for which your child can receive extra help in several different forms — modification of homework or course content, extra time for homework or exams, a Study Skills class, etc. — especially if testing qualifies him for an IEP or 504 plan. If there is any area in which you think your child might have a learning disability, ask to get them tested. One of my sons, who has several specific learning disabilities, did struggle, but that struggle was eased by the resources available at Gunn.

There might also be an underlying physiological problem such as the ADD a previous poster mentioned, or other issues, such as an anxiety disorder or sleep problems. Discuss getting testing with your child's pediatrician and counselor.

If there are subject areas that are especially difficult, and none of the courses at Gunn seem like good possibilities for fulfilling some requirement, consider having your student take a course or two in that area through an online high school. (You do have to get such a course substitution approved by the Gunn administration first.) In our case, the required readings in some of Gunn's core English courses were not appropriate for one of my sons (who has some emotional issues as well), and the less-downbeat, more-emotionally-neutral and more-classic readings of the two online English courses he took were much more compatible with his personal style than were Gunn's courses, which had readings more appropriate for college courses, IMHO.

Also, choice of teachers can be important. Some instructors are very rigid in their demands, some want to teach only to the brightest students in their classes, but others are more compassionate in dealing with struggling students and may offer different options for homework and even grade assessment. (And of course, some instructors are just better at teaching the course material than others.) A good counselor should be able to give you advice as to which teachers fit your student's learning style the best.

As for AP and Honors courses, choose them carefully (to correspond to areas of your student's strengths and interests only), and don't have him take more than one or two at a time. Contrary to what some posters implied above, before my youngest son graduated in 2008 we were hearing that the administration was considering limiting the number of AP courses any Gunn student could take at one time — not pushing AP courses to try to get higher in the national rankings of high schools. This discussion of limitation was largely in response to parents trying to get their kids into too many AP courses at once rather than what students themselves were trying to do — a hard-and-fast limitation would give the administration a good excuse for keeping these pushy parents from overloading their kids. (I don't know if those limits were ever actually imposed.) In our experience, a lot of the pressures some students suffered at Gunn were due to parental pressures rather than being self-imposed.

Let your child choose electives that both interest him or her, and don't add too much homework pressure. There are plenty of electives out there to choose from that don't add too many demands out of class.

My non-learning-disabled son was able to get along fine in Gunn by taking the lanes of courses appropriate for him, which included two AP courses his senior year only, and he wasn't overloaded with homework. He still had plenty of time to get together with friends and such. But then he wasn't striving for admittance to an elite college, or for a top-level GPA. He did OK at Gunn and got into the college of his choice, as did his friends, most of whom got into UCs, and none of whom were swamped with homework. So all of Gunn is not one giant grind; your child should be able to find a comfortable place there.

Posted by laura, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 4:47 am

Although I felt grateful my children attended a superb high school (Gunn) I also felt the culture that high achievers were praised and average students were left by the wayside. Plus, the kids were so competitive they even measured themselves against their friends grade-wise. I certainly don't remember that from my high school days. It wasn't till my kids got to UC that they felt smart. This atmosphere in high school is what this well educated community demands - as harmful as it may be for many students who can't "cope."

Posted by Palyalum, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2009 at 9:30 am


I completely disagree with your statement, "Better to learn how to deal with these issues now than to pick an easier path now and have to learn the hard lessons when they're away from home at college."

By college, they are adults and can handle more difficulties maturely. In high school, they are in their teen years where they are bombarded with new things: socializing, dating, hormones, drugs, peer pressure.

And in college, if they are having difficulties they can just drop a class or two to make the semester easier. And they can keep trying again and again in college to make up for poor grades.

In high school, there is no option to drop classes (or they won't graduate) and poor grades cannot be redone. They blow it in high school and they don't have a chance at their choice of college. There is tremendous pressure on our teenagers these days.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2009 at 11:54 am

Former Gunn,

It would be great if Gunn put some sort of limit on number of AP classes that can be taken at any one time.


Thanks for sharing your hands-on experience. It's one of the more useful things I've read about the realities of managing the load at Gunn.

Sounds, too, that good writing skills are the key to not being overwhelmed.

Posted by ExGunnPar, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Sympathize with you and would echo many of the things mentioned. Here are the things that made a difference for our Gunn Grad:

1. Helped her right-level her classes in conjunction with school staff. This doesn't have to mean dropping all challenging study, but tuning the class load a little.

2. Helped her understand the linkage between planning, procastination, timebound (complete to quality in fixed time) activity and choices. Lingering after school with friends, watching TV, spending time surfing tend to add up. This was with a lot of really patient listening and very light coaching. A lot of it was really encouraging her to talk about how she was planning to tackle her workload (and letting her fail sometimes).

3. Had her switch to doing homework in the kitchen and if she needed to do it in a quiet area, we invested the time to sit in the room quietly or be present in some way without hovering. Surprising conversations about ambitions, fears, peer pressure and such would often spill out that were detracting from her ability to do the homework.

4. Spot check without criticism. A great technique was to ask her to talk to us about routine assignments and how she was putting them together (essays, projects, exam study). You'd be surprised by often kids need someone to work with them on basic skills/techniques like outlining an essay before starting to write it. Just be willing to back off without insisting on perfection.

5. Start by setting time aside at least every other day to talk about homework load, calendaring activity, time estimation and reviewing at week end how things worked out. Let the child make tradeoffs on their own but ask them to make them explicit. Ask them what they would do different.

6. Tolerate some failure, particularly if there is no great impact to the child's well being. It much better for them to try and fail now in little ways with you around to pick them up than to fail without the support while at college. Let them know about how a path to happiness and success leads through personal achievement, not academic achievement. As long as your student believes that you are behind them, they can continue to try and fail without dramatic consequences and learn from the experience.

7. If your child's confidence is slipping in some area, consider a tutor for a brief period if you can afford one. Just an hour a week in a 1:1 setting helped her pull out of a tailspin because it gave her the supplemental instruction she needed in a safe setting. Didn't need it forever but injecting it at the right time did the trick and helped her understand that reaching for help was okay.

8. If your child has peers who are on the same "track", encourage them to do homework together at least once a week. A little peer working group (if it works right) can be great to sustain motivation, energy and remove the fear and tiredness that comes from working in isolation. This way homework doesn't have to mean not socializing with friends.

None of these are sure fire but the sum total of these worked for us.

Posted by Ric, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 9:28 pm

I feel as though the key to having your child succeed is making sure they are doing their work and turning it in. I have had a child that doesnt really care and so doesnt do any work but i have another child that cares and does his best in school. The child needs to be motivated and needs a purpose to do well in school.

Posted by Ric, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 9:28 pm

I feel as though the key to having your child succeed is making sure they are doing their work and turning it in. I have had a child that doesnt really care and so doesnt do any work but i have another child that cares and does his best in school. The child needs to be motivated and needs a purpose to do well in school.

Posted by Menlo-Atherton 6th Man, a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 11, 2009 at 9:35 pm

On behalf of the Menlo-Atherton 6th Man Club, I would like to offer some suggestions as to how this child could succeed in Gunn, a strenuous academic environment by all accounts. First, a strategy that I preach to the freshmen in our orientation each fall is to sit in the front of the class. It forces you to pay attention. Next, get involved in extra-curricular activities. The M-A 6th Man requires a 3.8 GPA for any special recognition from the Board of Trustees and regular progress reports are mandatory. Finally, do well on tests and quizzes. They are important not just to getting excellent grades but in being happy in life.

Thanks for your time,
M-A Sixth Man

Posted by Carrie Manley, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2009 at 10:34 pm

First, I just want to commend this parent for reaching out for help, support and perspective. The more people speak up, the more that others know it's okay to speak up too.
Stanford's Department of Education is home for the new non-profit group, Challenge Success, and their website has lots of resources on the issue of student stress.
Also, if you have time, you might want to come to a PTA presentation Feb. 26 called "Helping Our Kids Thrive." This program is being offered as a series at schools around Palo Alto this school-year. The one on 2/26 is at Fairmeadow, but it's open to teachers and parents with kids in all grades, K-12, and to anyone interested in this issue. It gives participants to talk about specific challenges, especially in the area of student stress, and also the chance to share solutions. In surveys done at the end of each of these recent PTA programs (at JLS, El Carmelo, Nixon) 100% of those surveyed have said they were very glad they came and would recommend it to others. The event details are at
You might also want to check out the 7-minute quiz, "How are our kids doing?" at It has compelling information that absolutely makes it clear that you are not alone in your concerns. Stanford's recent report on student mental health issues said this generation of students is experiencing what the Stanford Task Force called a "silent epidemic" of mental and emotional challenges. The report also said the issues start well before college. In a survey of some 22-hundred Stanford students, 12% reported that they had thought of suicide. And these are the kids who many would say have reached a highly-prize pinnacle of "success"... but at what price?
Dr. Madeline Levine, one of the co-founders of Challenge Success, has said,(I'm paraphrasing...) "Don't bother moving, this issue is everywhere," not unique to Palo Alto, not just at Paly or Gunn. I'm not saying this for you to lose hope, but rather to say trust your own gut about what feels reasonable and true to you. I wish you and your child the very best, and I appreciate you sharing your situation.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2009 at 2:30 pm

The world or high school is a competitive place these days and I have two children, one who was super competitive and went to a top elite school and one who is not competitive, unless he's on the soccer field or dodgeball court, and he will not go to a top elite university or even a UC(need a 3.0 these days). The latter child is a junior at Gunn and after almost 3 years, I have figured out the reasons he is not a very good student:
1. He hates to study and doesn't. Most teachers aren't very sympathetic about that.
2. He cares more about other people than himself. Teachers don't give A's for being nice.
3. He would rather fail a class than leave a teacher he likes and classmates he likes.
Teachers usually want him to stay, even if he is having problems, because they like him.
So as you can see, If my son were more self-centered, more competitive, more goal oriented, then he would get better grades, and he would be considered a successful Gunn student. But after almost 3 years of trying to get him to want to succeed, his personality really won't allow him to concentrate soley on himself. For example, he would choose to give his graphing calculator to a friend for a test and go without one for his test.
We have done some things at Gunn that have helped him, such as hiring a adolescent teen counselor to help him navigate the social waters at Gunn, engaged a math tutor at The Academic Center, which helped him raise his D grade to a C grade in a hard sophmore math class, worked hard to get him dropped to a lower math level. The latter one took a lot of effort including many many e-mails to the head of the department, his teacher and his counselor. What surprised me was just how hard it was to get him out of a class he was just about failing-the teacher kept saying how much he contributed to the class! Just so you know, I have thought about everything that everyone has mentioned in this thread before me, private school, boarding school, middle college, consistant tutoring, etc, but my son would not agree to any of these things-he has always wanted to stay at Gunn and take responsibility for his grades and classes-even when they were poor. But the good part is that because we have had to accept the rigorous Gunn academic atmosphere for him, because that's what he has wanted in spite of his failures, he has learned so much from his teachers and from the entire H.S. experience. I think he has grown so much in almost 3 years and now we are resolved to see it through, all the while as we continue to try to get him to study and to do better in school. We care that our son does well at Gunn, but we also know how smart and talented he really is and we try and focus on the whole person and that helps.

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